Friday, February 10, 2012

Air pollution in Bangladesh capital kills thousands

SALEEM SAMAD

Nauseating air pollution in the Bangladesh capital annually kills thousands of urban poor and millions more suffer from respiratory diseases, a burden on inadequate health budget.

Authorities in Bangladesh assume if air pollution in its overcrowded capital could be reduced by only 20 to 80 percent, an estimated 1,200 to 3,500 lives annually could be saved.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) claims that another 80 to 230 million cases of respiratory diseases could be averted each year.

The recently completed Country Environment Assessment, conducted jointly by the government and the World Bank identified air pollution as the leading cause of mortality and morbidity related environmental issues.

Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE), a project of the government with the support of the Bank to reduce the capital Dhaka’s smog (smoke and fog) squarely blames scores of brick industries at the fringe of the city and clogging of limited road by large number of vehicles for 16 hours during weekdays.

The study says if the air pollution is reduced, it would also save $170 to 500 million in healthcare costs and simultaneously increase the productivity of city dwellers.

Traffic congestion in the capital and smoke from brick kilns are the main reasons for air pollution in Dhaka city, according to the World Bank and the Bangladesh government.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests says that vehicles in Dhaka move 14kmph on an average, which is very slow and causes them to burn more fuel and contribute to air pollution. They say the average speed could come down to 4kmph by 2025 if things do not improve.

The urban environment experts recommends for immediate introduction of energy efficient technology for a pro-green brick industry and rapid mass transit in Dhaka metropolis to ease traffic gridlocks through out the day.

An independent newspaper Daily Star on Friday quoting an official of the Department of Environment (DoE) said the density of airborne particulate matter is around 250 micrograms per cubic metre in Dhaka, which is five times the acceptable level.

The air consists of common pollutants, sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ground-level ozone (O3), volatile organic compounds, hydrogen sulphide (H2S), sulphates and nitrates, the DoE official said.

Additional air pollutants of concern include toxic metals (lead, mercury, manganese, arsenic and nickel), benzene, formaldehyde, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), dioxins, and other persistent organic compounds, he add.

In another study Environmental Performance Index 2012, undertaken by the U.S. universities of Yale and Columbia, found Dhaka to be the 31st most polluted city out of 132 cities across the world.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow, is an award winning investigative reporter based in Bangladesh. He specializes on Islamic extremism, forced migration, good governance, press freedom and elective democracy. He was detained, tortured in 2002 and later expelled in 2004 for whistle-blowing of the safe sanctuaries of the Jihadist leaders in Bangladesh who fled during Anglo-US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Ending his life in exile from Canada he has recently returned home after six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com